Management gurus believe there are limits to how many people even the most effective CEO can directly supervise or manage. How then can a modern president like Obama properly oversee the unwieldy executive branch?
The question of how many individuals a ‘boss’ can successfully supervise has been discussed since the time of the Roman legions. As I had the honor of taking classes from Dr. Harold Koontz at UCLA in the late 1960’s, see next is provided a quote from his famous 1955 textbook, written with Cyril O’Donnell:
There is a limit to the number of persons an individual can effectively manage, even though that limit is not finite for every case but will vary with the complexity of the relationship supervised and the ability of managers and subordinates.
Given the variables of relationships and the abilities of managers and subordinates, the theorists are unable to provide a precise number of subordinates for successful management. That being said, most management professors would conclude that under the best of circumstances, a dozen direct reports is about the highest number of direct reports that can be managed by the best of CEOs.
One of the postulates in the discussions about this management issue, generally referred to as either ‘span of control’ or ‘span of management’ is that the person managing will actually be in the office and working. Without access to the boss by subordinates or direct supervision of the subordinates, the manager has moved from manager/boss to chief abdicator in charge. When managers do not have time to manage, there is chaos.
So, the questions for today are: “How many people is the President of the United States responsible for managing? How much time is he spending in the office? Could any President manage this number of direct reports given the public travelling and speech making schedule he has decided to pursue? ”
The President’s Cabinet, including the Vice-President is sixteen people and he has approximately thirty-one czars. The cynic within the author notes with wonder that the President of the United States needs a specific czar to deal with home weatherization efforts. (Note that czars report directly to the President as his eyes and ears on specific issues.) And of course, the President has his own staff of direct reports which, at a minimum, includes David Axelrod, Peter Rouse (Formerly Rahm Emanuel) and Robert Gates.
If, on average, each Cabinet member needs an hour every week and every czar needs an hour a month, and his three closest aides along with the daily security briefings need just a total of two hours daily, the President’s direct reports require a total of about thirty-four hours a week of his time. And needless to add, there are elected and foreign officials to meet with and the occasional crisis and more than a stray report to read.
So, what is the issue? Given that the President is somewhere virtually every day giving a speech, takes very regular vacations, tries to take time off on the weekend, for the last month has been non-stop campaigning and next week is off to India, who is managing the store? No one can mange any position without regularly working with those they manage.